School Band 101: How to Pick the Right Musical Instrument for Your Child to Play
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School Band 101: How to Pick the Right Musical Instrument for Your Child to Play

How to Pick the Band Instrument Your Child Should Play

How to Pick the Right Band Instrument for Your Child. You’ve got a letter from school which says you are invited to a parent meeting for prospective band students. Along with this is an instrument recommendation or your child. What does it all mean?

Below I will explain how a band director typically determines the instrument selection for your child.

If the whole beginning band process is being followed, this is the basic layout.

1. Students are given a test, usually the Selmer Music Guidance Survey, though other similar tests may be used. The purpose of the test is to determine their skills in tonal memory, ability to discriminate among tones, ability to recognize repeated musical patterns, rhythmic counting abilities, and ability to discriminate among rhythmic combinations.

2. The abilities in separate sections of these tests greatly help to determine success with particular instruments. For example, a trombone slide doesn’t operate like pressing certain keys on a flute to produce certain notes. The player has to find a spot on the long slide of the trombone which corresponds to the note he wants to play. This requires a better sense of tonal pitch and therefore, a student who performed very well on the tonal discrimination section will do better on the trombone than a student who performed poorly on this section. Likewise, a prospective percussion student would need to score well in the rhythmic discrimination sections of the test, though ideally, all band students would perform reasonably well in the rhythmic discrimination sections.

3. This is followed by an individual meeting with the student. In this brief meeting, the interviewer will determine a student’s level of interest , and review the test with them. If the student is interested, the interviewer will then do a visual look at fingers, size of the child, lip and teeth formation, underbite, overbite, check for braces or the possibility that braces will be needed.

4. The interviewer will then let the student try an instrument or two, usually asking the student if they have a preference. Usually, a demonstration of the instruments is done at the test or at the interview so the student has some familiarity with the choices.

5. In the determination process, the interviewer will use a mouthpiece or head joint of various instruments to see if the child can form the correct mouth position. At the end of this meeting, the interviewer will make a recommendation, possibly two recommendations, provided the child has shown an interest in learning an instrument.

Not all schools follow this procedure so you need to check that out to be sure your child has a quality recommendation. Children can fail to learn an instrument, through no fault of their own, when they would have succeeded beautifully on a different instrument.

See my next article: How to purchase or rent an instrument for your child.

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Comments (4)

true indeed

My son wouldn't be where he is today if his band instructor hadn't selected the right instrument for him. He wanted to play the saxophone, but his band director helped him to play the trumpet. He is now a principal player in a major symphony. He wouldn't be there if he was playing a saxophone.

Thanks so much for your comment Pat. I'm so happy your son had an excellent band director who helped with his career in music.

Thanks for the vote Colin!